1408 Blu-ray Review

Movie adaptations of Stephen King stories span the gamut in quality from superb (the Shining, the Shawshank Redemption, Stand by Me) to embarrassingly awful (Maximum Overdrive, Graveyard Shift). Mikael Hafstrom’s 1408, while not the best in the ever growing catalog of King inspired movies, is thankfully much closer to the former than the latter. Theatrically released in 2007 to decent critical and audience response, the Blu-ray from Genius Products provides the director’s cut of 1408 that adds several minutes of footage including a different, more appropriate ending.

The plot centers on Mike Enslin (John Cusack), a non-fiction writer and die-hard skeptic with no real passion for this work debunking claims of paranormal/haunted locations. When he is drawn to investigate room 1408 (it adds up to 13 as Mike easily figures out) at the Dolphin hotel, his attitude towards his profession changes. Unable to be dissuaded by hotel manager Gerald Olin (Samuel L. Jackson), Enslin enters 1408 to find himself engaged in various forms of psychological warfare with the room. These range from vague manipulations of space and time to showing him suppressed parts of his psyche dealing with his father, his deceased daughter and estranged wife (Mary McCormack).

1408 owes as much to the style of the psychological thriller as to the horror genre. At its best, the movie is nail-bitingly unnerving with multiple “jump out of your seat” moments that balance with the explorations of the main character’s emotional past. The director and screenwriters note in their commentary that none of the latter was present in King’s original short story. The character details were added to flesh out the script and arguably add a level of complexity that helps the movie rise above just providing cheap scares.

The first hour of the film becomes engrossingly frightening, but unfortunately 1408’s allure weakens during its second half. The cerebral games the room initially provides are subtle allowing for imagination to come into play, and the overall effect works well producing a chilling sense of terror. Cusack is allowed to carry the momentum of the story with his excellently timed reactions to the slowly impending madness his character is experiencing. As the threats produced by the room escalate, so does the overall production scale to somewhat detrimental results.

Though the production value of the later scenes cannot be faulted, the constant barrage of mind games experienced starts becoming repetitive. The increasingly large-scale designs make the mechanisms of the story a bit too apparent detracting from both the psychological/emotional and horror elements. The movie could have benefited from trimming 15 or so minutes throughout its second half. To its credit, 1408 gets back on track by its finale that in this director’s cut provides satisfying, if not totally coherent, closure to the story.

The Weinstein Company through Genius Products present 1408, simultaneously with another King adaptation of The Mist, as their entry into the Blu-ray format. To clarify possible confusion, the version of the film included here is the Director’s cut. I was unsure at first, as it is nowhere mentioned on the cover, which seems like a missed marketing opportunity.

IMDB lists the Director’s cut as running 112 minutes, increased from the 104 minute theatrical cut, and this matches the length of the feature on the Blu-ray. Hafstrom confirms in his commentary that this is indeed his director’s cut. Unlike the DVD, the theatrical version is not included though the original ending is one of the alternate scenes.

The video transfer on this Blu-ray is presented framed at 2.35:1 with a 1080p VC-1 encode. The visuals look acceptable but unspectacular with detail not being overly abundant except in extreme close-ups. The print is pristine with only very rare moments where grain spikes. No heavy-handed digital noise reduction or edge enhancement appears to have been applied. The video presentation is an improvement over the standard definition DVD but nowhere near the level of the most impressive high definition 1080p transfers we currently have.

The visual tone of the film often comes across slightly flat with washed out colors and lacking the sense of dimensionality we expect in the best of Blu-ray video. The color palette changes depending on whether a scene takes place inside or outside the room and more so within the multiple variations of the “games” played within the room. Scenes outside the room are a bit more vibrant but never stunning. Lighting is used to elicit particular effects and will wash over entire scenes in such a way that skin tones look unnatural and inherent detail is minimized.

While this results in a less than stunning 1080p experience, I believe the visual style intended by the director is accurately presented here. The way the visuals accentuate the change in mood from scene to scene can be marginally surreal but considering the themes of “un-reality” in the story, this seems deliberate. These effects do not detract from the overall satisfying Blu-ray presentation of the film but also do not make for a demo quality high definition transfer.

In what is hopefully a sign of the Weinstein Company/Genius’ commitment to lossless audio, the soundtrack is offered with an English Dolby TrueHD 5.1 option. A Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track is also included, but there are no foreign language dubs. Subtitles are provided in Spanish and English SDH.

A comparison between the two tracks shows the Dobly TrueHD lossless audio consistently outshines the Dolby Digital. The TrueHD track is fuller and more enveloping providing a more substantial sense of atmosphere. All six channels are put to good use throughout, and dialogue is consistently clear and well balanced never being lost under the supporting effects and score.

The soundtrack services the overall presentation exceptionally well being thoroughly immersive while working subtlety to enhance the frequently sinister tone of the movie. There are many moments when the sound effects skillfully diverge from the action on screen to enhance the sense of psychological disorientation. I actually paused the movie a few times because I wanted to verify that the unnerving noises I was hearing around me were an intended part of the experience. While the video on the Blu-ray of 1408 is less than demo quality, the lossless audio surround mix comes very close.

The Blu-ray of 1408 includes a number of different extras. The good news is all the video is presented in high definition. The bad news is that the video either was not mastered in high def or the source material just cannot look any better than this less than impressive quality. The theatrical trailer is the only extra that is obviously mastered in HD. The rest, with the exception of some moments in the featurettes, produce no better results than standard definition even though they are VC-1 encoded with the requisite bitrate.

Feature Length Commentary: I was not sure what to expect from this commentary track but was pleasantly surprised. Director Mikael Hafstrom and writers Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski fill the full length of the movie with informative details behind the adaptation of King’s story, the shooting locales, production information and even the differences between the various endings and the newly included scenes for the director’s cut.

Hafstrom’s accent took a bit of getting used to but there is a good camaraderie between him and the writers as they play off each other very well. This track is probably a bit too detailed for the casual viewer, but fans of the film should find it very worthwhile.

Deleted Scenes (11:23): Alternate or extended versions of 5 scenes. Interesting to watch but not essential.

Alternate Endings (10:39): The first ending is the one presented theatrically while the second is a similar variation off the first. Optional commentary is offered which details how these endings differ from the director’s cut finale and match up with the original short story. They are both more cheery than the director’s cut ending which better suits the tone of the movie.

Webisodes (4:40): Two webisodes (John Cusack on 1408 and Inside 1408) mostly consisting of interview footage with Cusack. Both are so short that they have little depth and represent the promotional functionality they were created for.

Featurettes (22:56): Four featurettes dealing with Characters (Cusack’s and Jackson’s), Director (Hafstrom), Physical Effects and Production Design. These were all obviously culled from the same source, and, with the level of thematic overlap between them, they should have been edited into a single featurette.

They are interesting if not overly detailed in the production of the movie.

Trailer (2:33): Theatrical trailer of the movie in HD.

1408, though faltering with some pacing issues in its second hour, is one of the better film adaptations of a Stephen King story in recent memory. The Blu-ray package includes adequate video and stunning lossless audio that really supports the creepy atmosphere of the movie. The extras are decent but not overly impressive with the commentary being the best. It is definitely worth a rental and possibly a purchase for fans of Stephen King and psychological horror.

– Robert Searle

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